College and Intergenerational Mobility: New Evidence from Administrative Data

Awarded Scholars:
John Friedman, Brown University
Raj Chetty, Harvard University
Emmanuel Saez, University of California, Berkeley
Danny Yagan, University of California, Berkeley
Project Date:
Jul 2015
Award Amount:
Project Programs:
Social, Political, and Economic Inequality

In viewing the U.S. as a land of equal opportunity, increased education—and especially college—is seen as the primary mechanism for achieving upward social and economic mobility. In contrast, researchers have recently raised the possibility that postsecondary education may be contributing to increased economic stratification. Professor John Friedman of Brown University and his colleagues will examine the role of college in the intergenerational transmission of income inequality.

The investigators will first characterize and analyze the joint distribution of parental and student incomes to understand the extent to which students from rich and poor families attend college, which colleges produce students in the upper part of the income distribution, and what explains the substantial variation across similarly-ranked colleges. They will also estimate how much of the parent and child income correlation is explained by the college the child attends. Finally, they will produce a data set on the joint distribution of parental and student income that will be publicly released to enable other researchers to examine additional questions about the effects of college attendance on intergenerational mobility.

The second phase of the project will focus on quasi-experimental evidence on the causal effects of higher education policy. The investigators will quantify the causal determinants of college access and later-life success for students from low-income families by evaluating policies that are designed to boost college attendance. As an example, some institutions have recently expanded financial aid, and many federal and state tax credits for education have grown. These policies serve as instruments for college attendance in their analysis of the causal effect of attendance on earnings.


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